Abortion restrictions in the U.S. military: voices from women deployed overseas

Womens Health Issues. 2011 Jul-Aug;21(4):259-64. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2011.04.014.


Purpose: U.S. military women and dependents have few options for abortion when facing an unintended pregnancy overseas. Federal law prohibits the use of Department of Defense facilities and funds for abortion except when the woman's life is at risk, and privately funded abortions are permitted at military facilities only if a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. The purpose of this study was to explore military women's experiences seeking abortion care during overseas deployment.

Methods: We reviewed routine consultation data and user queries from an online service providing information about medication abortion. Information received between September 2005 and December 2009 from U.S. military women and dependents overseas was included. All women gave consent for anonymous use of their data, which were analyzed qualitatively for themes related to experiences seeking abortion.

Findings: Data were analyzed for 130 women, including 128 women in the U.S. military and 2 military dependents. Women reported facing numerous challenges accessing abortion overseas, including legal and logistical barriers to care in-country, and real or perceived difficulties accessing abortion elsewhere owing to confidentiality concerns, fear of military reprimand for the pregnancy, and the narrow timeframe for early abortion. With no perceived alternatives, some women considered unsafe methods to terminate the pregnancy themselves.

Conclusion: U.S. servicewomen overseas lack access to safe abortion services, which may place their health and careers in jeopardy. These women should have the same rights to abortion care as women living in the United States.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced* / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Military Facilities*
  • Military Personnel*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unplanned
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted
  • United States
  • Young Adult